Monday, 13 June 2016

Ups and downs of farm life

Sifting or riddling soil (dirt) 
I could have titled the blog exactly the same as last week as arrivals and departures, but that would get boring. It has been busy again this week and we have been grateful for our guests who undertook some of the odd tasks that we do around here, such as crushing eggshells. Not quite the same as crushing bones like they used to do in the Workhouses in Britain in the eighteenth century but it did remind me of that. It maybe just as tedious but not so arduous and means I can give the shells back to the chickens without them realising they are eggshells and so deciding to eat their own eggs. Our friend found the task quite therapeutic and jokingly said it was a shame there wasn't someone she was mad at at the moment. There was also weeding to do, hoeing and sifting alpaca poo/decomposed wood chips to make something I could use for planting up squash plants. At least it meant I could catch up a little on some planting and just before some much needed rain.
Riddling isn't so bad, our friend is smiling

Waiting for births
We were waiting and waiting for the sheep to give birth and we joked that they would wait until after our friends returned to Estonia, but instead two of the sheep gave birth the day before they left. The first one to give birth had a male lamb in the early hours of the morning. We didn't know anything about it and she hid him well, which meant we didn't discover him until much later, by which time she had bonded well with him and there was obviously no problems. This was a good job, because it was the sheep we have the most problems with as she is not as friendly as the others and takes a lot of catching. The next one seemed to take quite a while from her waters breaking to giving birth and so she was helped along the way by a friend of ours from the neighbouring sheep farm. It was a big baby and a little traumatic for her, so we decided to put her in our old chicken house to bond with the baby and recover. In the process of catching her though, they realised that she actually had twins and was in the process of giving birth to the next one. Fortunately all went well in the transfer from the field to the shed and her babies grew well.

Helping with the birth - well pinning a
sheep down while the hardwork was
done by our neighbour and Ian

Safely tucked up in the chicken house-
where you keep sheep of course!
The following day we had visitors, some neighbours from the apartment where we live (in the winter that is). It was lovely to see the young man and his new family, as we knew him when we first came to do a camp nearby at what is now the sheep farm and camp. In those days there was very little infrastructure and we camped in tents, not cabins like they have these days. I always remembered him as a child who smiled a lot and it was a shame to see him struggle a bit in his teenage years, but he seems to have come through that now and grown into a lovely young man and family life seems to suit him.
The elusive sheep with her lamb.

She is a good mother though and her lamb is growing up
fast and healthy
Ironically the next set of visitors, only an hour apart, was the man who ran the camp where we had met our previous visitor. He was also the man who sold us our land and set us off on this adventure of smallholding, as well as one of the first people we met when we came to Latvia in the year 2000 as he was running that camp in another place, north of Sigulda. He brought his family and it was amazing to see the youngest boy, who could be quite bouncy at times, stand so still while the alpacas came up and sniffed his hair. Even the boys, who are not always so friendly, seemed to be quite fascinated with him in particular and we are not quite sure why. Alpacas can be quite choosy who they will interact with at times. Sometimes we have to really coax them and other times they will come straight up.
He's also very cute and a black face like his mother
Eyre under the fleece and amongst the strawberries.
Our friend kindly offered to buy us dinner and so we took him up on the offer, despite the fact we had actually been twice that week with our other visitors. We are not the sort to pass up on the chance of a meal and it was easier than trying to make something out on the land especially as it had started to rain quite heavily. If it had been fine outside we would have had a picnic outside, but the caravan is too small for so many and in the greenhouse my tomatoes were in peril of youngsters or youngster to be more precise with lots of energy. It wouldn't be fair to expect a young one to not run around in the greenhouse when he had been waiting for adults to finish talking.
Aggie often comes up to visitors to greet them

I love this picture as they look like they are in formation
ready for action
They weren't the only visitors either. Our friend who helps us on the farm came to see us while we were chatting in the greenhouse to check all was okay to bring her friends the following day. As she helps us out, she was able to give the tour herself and Ian was really only on hand to fill in a few details as necessary. She brought carrots sliced up nice and small so the alpacas do not choke and to encourage them to come up and the alpacas were quite happy to come up and greet her. To finish off our last visitor today was the first visit we had from a Lithuanian, he was working for the biogas unit nearby on contract for a few months and had been passing our land regularly so decided to stop today.
Our friend the goat farmer has had this playground built for
the goats. It is very amusing to see the goats using it and our
visitors enjoyed the cheese so much they bought some to take
home with them

A rainbow with its head in the clouds. A welcome sight after
the drought we have had. Most of our buckwheat died through
lack of rain
We've had a couple of days of showers with the sort of rain that wets everything through nicely. Unfortunately it was also windy and cold, we even had to put fleece back on the tomatoes. Of course that would be the time for our last sheep to give birth. Our chicken house was full with the other sheep and her two and it was obviously not working to leave the next set of twins outside. We tried moving them under shelter and making sure that they had protection with hay. The mother even seemed to be quite interested in her babies and paid them a lot of attention, so we were hopeful she would bond well. Unfortunately she didn't seem to let them feed and it was getting too cold and wet for the babies. We ended up rearranging things in the old alpaca house to make room for some new occupants. It was a bit of a struggle because it had become a convenient store.

Fish in our pond. We wondered if they had survived since
our friend put them in as we hadn't seen them, but just
lately they have been visible
As the babies didn't seem to be feeding and mum kept moving off when we tried to get them to latch on, we decided to milk her and bottle feed the young ones. To do this we had to pin her down and milk her on her side. Not exactly very dignified, but necessary because she wouldn't stand still. We were encouraged to get a good bit of milk down the babies. I got up in the night to see to them and found one had managed to crawl through a small gap between the barriers. I tried to give them some milk, but they didn't seem as bothered as the last time, so I went back to bed for an hour. The second time I was very concerned as they still weren't feeding.

The youngest twins that didn't survive. They looked this
peaceful when they died. 
One lamb felt quite cold and so I sat on the floor and tucked her inside my coat till she warmed up. We managed to get a bit of milk down them in the morning after Ian got up and one of them even started moving around a lot and investigating the shed. They still weren't feeding properly though and seemed to have stopped suckling. We also realised that the female lamb couldn't stand on one leg and we wondered if she had been stood on. I spent the early part of the morning in the greenhouse with the female lamb tucked up on my lap again, warming and snoozing in the sun. Unfortunately none of this was enough to help and by early evening the male lamb died and about an hour later the female died.

It was sad in many ways, but something wasn't right, so this was perhaps the kindest option for them to drift off in their sleep. It was also a bit of relief because we thought we might be tied to the farm to feed them every two hours, until they were big enough to feed with longer breaks in between. The mother was making quite a bit of noise whilst in the shed and we thought it was because she wanted to be with the others and the ram kept bleating back. Now we are beginning to wonder if she was actually calling her little ones and as they were getting weaker they weren't responding back. She certainly got very noisy when we put her back in the field and she kept looking for her little ones. All a bit sad really, if only she had let them feed. The mother also had a problem when she was growing up so we think she will be better off culled. This might have to be sooner rather than later because at some point the ram will try to mate with her and we don't want babies in winter. The ram is needed at the moment because he is good at looking after his ladies and it is better to have him around to protect them and the babies against foxes.
A big hole for a new pond
Someone trying to eat through the fence
With all the hectic weeks we have been having we haven't had the chance to Skype with our daughter and her young family, so I made sure we could today before I get into finishing off pieces of work with deadlines that are looming. I have managed to push some back because of the problems we have been having but I can't do that for them all and I want them finished and out of the way anyway. It is amazing what we can do these days with modern technology. I took the Skype call on my ipad and with the mobile internet in my hand we went for a walk around the land. First of all we went looking for Grandad and on the way we saw some baby chicks, some of the hens and then found Grandad on his tractor digging a tree root out. We then walked to see the alpacas and Aggie came up really close to the screen, we then continued up to see the baby lambs and lastly the boys before going back to the caravan to finish off chatting. Not sure how much they could see, but at least they could see some of our animals.

I must add that many of the photos on this week's blog are not our own but taken by our friends who visited us this week


  1. What a varied busy life you lead. Sorry to hear about your lambs but always lovely to see photos of the alpacas

    1. It sure is varied and definitely busy at the moment too. Mind you, I think I would quickly get bored in an office job without sufficient mental challenges of many varied kinds :D I felt we did the best we could for the lambs under the circumstances and it was just one of those things. Of course with experience that type of thing happens less often, but sheep are fickle things and even experienced folks say they are almost programmed with a death wish at times. Glad you like the alpacas


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